Top critical review
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It is honest. It is sincere. BUT, it is brutal and destructive.
on 18 January 2012
I've been in the depths of despair inside for years now, primarily due to the loss of my parents with no support from my blood family whatsoever. My husband has been 100% there for me but I can hardly keep bawling my eyes out in front of him. And so I turned to books for help. This was one of them. I read it in the Autumn of 2010, nine months after my Mum died, (my Dad had died nearly 6 years earlier) and that was too soon for me. To read how others feel at their losses did not feel empathetic; I soaked up their feelings like a sponge and went into overload.
Recently I thought I would try to see if I could read it again to see if I felt differently - I just couldn't do it. I reminded myself of various parts in it but the same desolation it inspired then returned in full force and I just had to stop. I would definitely not recommend that anyone read it soon after they are bereaved when the emotions are raw; the loss fresh and vivid. It could devastate them.
This book was written because of the feelings the author experienced at the time her father died which triggered emotions about all those who had died in her past and my first reaction was that it was a brilliant portrayal of this. And it is. And that's the problem. I so totally agreed with how she says it feels when the second parent dies but she also made it clear that she believes this doesn't change and that it goes on forever and ever. The hopelessness of life after being orphaned at a mature age, the loss of a child or a partner, the awareness of our own mortality and the horrible realization that we never get over it - never - doomed to go to our graves feeling this way, is too much for anyone to bear, however true it is.
The author is scathing of any suggestion that we go through emotional stages following a death. She believes that we will interpret these as a rigid sequence. Not crediting anyone with the intelligence to know it is different for everyone. Because of this, there is no structure of that sort to the content of the book and it is therefore inherently a messy book about a messy subject. The problem is, it left me feeling in a mess. I don't think books that describe stages and give hope should be written off. I don't for one moment think that there is the same sequence for everyone and certainly we return again and again to earlier emotions 'in no particular order'. But such books at least break up the emotions into digestible pieces we can relate to and which we then can extrapolate, adjust, switch around and so on to better understand our own experiences. They also give hope. On the cover of her book is a note by Anthony Clare "A very painful, honest and ultimately hopeful account". This led me to believe there was some hope. This book gives none. Even the postscript three years after the death of her father is in the same vein: "I'm impatient to discover whether I have to live in this land of grief and rage and confusion for ever, or whether bereavement is actually a journey...".
Don't get me wrong - she is absolutely right. It is two years since my Mum died and I'm as upset, lost, lonely, confused, ... as I was then - when I let myself dwell on it. I reiterate: this book doesn't have any hope in it. It is not a book that the bereaved should read believing it does. We all know we are mortal; we all know we are going to die and all around us are going to die too. We don't dwell on it. We have to believe things will get better - this is constructive. We also know that we will experience pain - for some, unbearable and forever pain - but what we need is positive support while we endure such pain however long that is. You may feel better for reading about other peoples experiences - there are numerous examples in this book - but I believe it is unhealthy to endorse pain in such a way when adamant that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
I truly wish that this book had remained a private unpublished vent of anger for the author. Obviously many may disagree with me. The thing is, do you want to feel better and able to cope or do you want to wallow in self-pity forever as the author has decided we must and probably will? Yes we will grieve. Yes we will feel guilt, fear, anger and all the other horrendous emotions a death inspires (even relief for some). But also, yes we must live as the changed person that we inevitably become after a death and yes we must move on for the benefit of those who are still alive including ourselves.